Ask Ann: Downhill Training

Dear Ann,
Now that WS100 lottery is done, and a few of us are in and needing to plan our training we realize that it entails quite a bit of downhill running. As a 14-time winner, what did you do to train for downhills? What can you advise us to prepare for the downhill portions of the race?

Dear Downhill- Oh yes, downhill running was an integral part of my training regimen for any mountain trail event. It had to be because it was one of my weakest links as a trail runner. I was known to periodize this critical part of my training into three segments: going to school, practice, and execution.

Going to school always started around the first of the year. My instructors were incredible runners such as Dan Williams, Bob Bunnell and Emma Davies, to name a few. Coursework centered around working on technique, turnover and efficency. I also learned that, when running downhill, always be prepared to fall elegantly, almost effortlessly so that it almost looks that you are enjoying the earth’s gravitational pull. Every year it seemed I would have a notable faceplant and I made a point to get the most laughs out of each dirt tasting.

My homework, during school session, included reading and watching videos – whatever I could get my hands on for some bit of advice. Improvement seemed to come in small steps but my goal was to make the new year better than the last.

So, factors to take into consideration are that research has shown that there is adaptation to stress of downhill running or eccentric contractions (lengthening). It has also been documented that too much downhill running is associated with decreases in VO2 max. My advice is to avoid doing downhill training too frequently so that your body has time to recover.

The last six weeks leading up to a major event should be all about execution. In fact, for yetto- be-explained reasons, the soreness insurance provided by a single bout of downhill running can often last for six weeks or more (Muscle Function after Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage and Rapid Adaptation, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 24(5), pp. 512-520, 1992). It has been documented that this insurance wanes perceptibly after six weeks and no positive effect is seen 10 weeks out.

For me, running the canyons or down Hope Pass hard six weeks out with a repeat performance one to two weeks later was critical. Race day would come and I would then have the confidence that I had worked on my technique and that my quads would not turn to mush during the event.

Yes, Downhill Will, this is an excellent time to be thinking of downhill training.

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Ann Trason

Ann Trason is a 14-time women’s champion at the Western States 100, and set World Records at the 50-mile (5:40:18 in 1991), 100K (7:00:47, 1995), 12-Hour (91 miles 1312 yards, 1991) and 100-mile (13:47:42, 1991) distances. Ann was co- director of the Firetrails 50 in northern California for 10 years, and has taught science at the college level. Ann currently coaches middle school cross country and supports other's ultrarunning achievements by volunteering, pacing and crewing at ultramarathon races throughout the Western US.

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